“Try a Little Kindness”: It’s Good for You and the Country, Too
Some of our readers are old enough to remember the 1970 hit song written by Curt Sapaugh and Bobby Austin and subsequently made popular by Glen Campbell. The chorus went like this:
You've got to try a little kindness; Yes, show a little kindness. Just shine your light for everyone to see. And if you try a little kindness, Then you'll overlook the blindness Of narrow-minded people on the narrow-minded streets.
Please understand up front that this article will not take a position on partisan politics, nor will we attempt to define who is and who is not “narrow-minded.” But it seems likely that the disturbing events and images from last week and last year are on the minds of every American. Failing to acknowledge that and failing to attempt to offer some helpful words seems naïve at best and hurtful at worst.
In elections, as in any contest, there are winners and there are losers. When we agonize with the losses of our favorite sports teams or when we gloat over their wins, it’s relatively harmless and the effects are typically short-term. But the stakes of elections are much higher, and how we react—whether our candidates won or lost—can have more serious ramifications. The effects can be especially harmful for us personally. In fact, “post-election stress disorder” is real, and its effects have only been heightened in recent years as national politics have become increasingly divisive and voices on both sides have become more strident.
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Experimental Political Science reported on the “happiness impact” on partisan supporters when their candidate lost an election. In studying the effects of the 2012 election that pitted GOP candidate Mitt Romney against Democrat incumbent Barack Obama, researchers noted that the negative emotional effects of losing the election were comparatively worse for Republican partisans than the effects of the Boston Marathon bombing on Boston residents. Not only that, but the study also concluded that the outcome was a “net negative”: the deficit for the losers was greater than the emotional gain for the winners. That finding was recently reinforced by a 2020 study published in the journal Economica that incorporated results from the 2016 election, won by Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, in the even more rancorous 2016 election, the net-negative happiness effect felt by supporters of the losing candidate was more pronounced than in 2012. You can probably predict what the results of a similar study would be for the election cycle we have just completed.
To state it simply, following an election, there are going to be a lot of unhappy and dissatisfied people—typically, slightly less than half the population of the country, in fact. We can be thankful that the vast majority of them will not respond to those feelings in violent, unlawful ways, but such negative and long-lasting emotions are nevertheless unhealthy, both for individuals and for our nation.
Is there a solution? We believe there are several things you can do—whether your candidate won or lost—to contribute to a more peaceful, forward-focused, and healthy climate.
Practice generosity. The link between generosity and feelings of well-being is well established. Best of all, this holds true whether you are the winner or the loser. If your candidate won the contest, recognize the hurt and disappointment in those who are feeling the loss and do your best to offer understanding. If your candidate lost, try to give the other side credit for their success and avoid assumptions of nefarious or unpatriotic motives. Thousands of years ago, Aristotle defined such a magnanimous attitude as “greatness of soul.” We need it now more than ever.
Take a historical perspective. In 1974, following the disastrous consequences of Watergate, Richard Nixon’s successor, Gerald Ford, lost decisively to Democrat Jimmy Carter. But the GOP didn’t disappear. In fact, four years later, Ronald Reagan defeated Carter and went on to become one of the most popular presidents in history. Similar turnabouts have happened on the other side. If your candidate lost, you can still bet that your day will come again. If your candidate won, your side will not retain the upper hand forever.
Get involved locally. “All politics is local.” This saying is as true today as it ever was. Chances are, you can have more direct effect on what happens in your community than what happens in Washington, DC. Not only that, but getting busy locally will help take your mind off things that are completely beyond your control. Doing something about things you can actually change will decrease feelings of frustration and helplessness and encourage you to look forward, rather than brood over the past.
We offer professional, fiduciary financial guidance that places our clients’ needs foremost. But we also understand that you are more than your financial holdings. If you are concerned about an uncertain future, we can offer perspective and direction. We would be happy to hear from you. To read our recent newsletter, “Tax and Estate Planning for 2020: A Roundup of Year-End Ideas,” please click here.